Investigation“Elon Musk, an American hero” (4/6). Mars is his goal. But first, he must land the Moon: make rockets reusable to lower their cost. By inventing the “low-cost orbital”, Elon Musk made SpaceX a key player in the launch of satellites and the transport of astronauts.
The scene takes place in the mid-2000s, during a space conference in Vietnam. The French Jean-Yves Le Gall, then boss of Arianespace, motto with his peers when he sees a young man disembark “In ripped jeans. He told us, the bosses of the biggest launch companies, “Here I am and you are dead.” One of us replied: “You speak. We are launching [des satellites]. ” If we had known… ”, Le Gall later told the Bloomberg News Agency.
Fifteen years later, if the Europeans are not “Dead”, at least they were well sounded by this young pretentious who sent, on April 23, men to the International Space Station (ISS), for the second time in a year, aboard his Falcon 9 rocket and his Crew Dragon capsule. The real hero of the adventure is him, Elon Musk, even if, in the photo, the French only have eyes for their astronaut, star Thomas Pesquet.
In two decades, the billionaire has revolutionized the space rocket industry and made it switch to low cost, “uberized” in a way. “SpaceX is more dreamy than Tesla, but technically there is nothing revolutionary. Musk used proven techniques, but at the right price ”, analysis Xavier Mosquet, expert from the Boston Consulting Group in Detroit (Michigan). For decades, the aerospace industry paid little attention to the cost of launchers. All that mattered was security, especially when it came to sending human beings into space. “The price of a shot was astronomical in 1957, during Sputnik’s time, but it had fallen to 10,000 dollars [8 500 euros] per kilo in the early 1970s, at the end of the Apollo program. Except that it remained at the same level for the next forty years. A flat line, as if it were a law of nature ”, explains Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society and friend of Elon Musk.
The means at hand
After trying to buy cheap rockets in Russia in 2001, Musk decides to build them himself and postpones his dream of going to Mars. He wants to start by attacking the satellite market, a more realistic project which consists of transforming the Earth’s orbit into a kind of highway where thousands of machines would circulate. For that, he will do everything himself, with the means at hand, before having, a few years later, the brilliant idea of recovering the launchers used.
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